Oh, simplicity. Those two words popped into my mind when I was watching a historical drama on cable the other night, basking in a highly romanticized depiction of suitors in waistcoats by day and penning one’s thoughts by candlelight at night.
Sure, I like my ballpoint (and my electricity), but who doesn’t roll her eyes over the regular onslaught of life’s little complications? Who doesn’t lose herself now and again in some fictitious universe in which there are no struggles to schedule the latest appliance repair guy, or hours on the phone fighting the most recent double-digit mistake on your utility bill?
Of course, there were no appliances, no utilities, and no phone in 1800… so as dreamy as those scenes may appear in film, they have little to do with reality.
Except I couldn’t get the yearning for simplicity — or some greater measure of it — out of my mind. And I didn’t need to drag the timeline back a century or two in order to imagine it.
What did I do?
I thought back about 15 years when I paid my bills twice a month, when I routinely dropped letters to friends in other states or abroad, and the number of phone calls I had to make on a given day to address “issues” had to do with the normal juggling of parenting two school-age kids and a job.
A job, incidentally, that had long but regular hours with no expectation that I was available at 11 at night or 4 in the morning, much less weekends and holidays.
Those were also days when the only self-promotion I was responsible for had to do with people who paid me to market their products and services, or a little “promoting” of my own wisdom to my then pre-pubescent sons.
Life, relative to non-essential expectations, was simple. And yes, “non-essential” is subject to interpretation — a matter of priorities, of values, of circumstances.
Earlier this past week, one night when sleep had abandoned me altogether, I set about trying to attack some of the essential non-essentials to contemporary survival. I poured over emails — hundreds of them in four different accounts, attempting to prune out what I didn’t need, unsubscribing from mailing lists I don’t even remember joining, and after an hour or so, having quite enough.
I made a small dent. That’s as much as I can say on that.
Next, I ran up and down stairs and powered through a few loads of laundry. Laundry that had been sitting, and sitting, and sitting.
Okay. Laundry done. Check.
I also cleaned the muckiest part of my fridge, soaked and scrubbed my pressure cooker, emptied and reloaded the dishwasher, and cut plastic rings off recyclable bottles and put the bottles in the recycling bin.
Next, I dug in at the kitchen table, persisting until it was nearly dawn, going through every mailing that I had previously stacked having determined that it wasn’t a current bill. While I didn’t finish filing everything I needed to keep — (shred others, trash others, and recycle what I could) — I was depleted when I finally said “enough” and had to content myself with whatever progress I had made. It was noticeable progress, but I still didn’t feel what I was hoping to experience — a sense of being caught up.
Are you caught up? Do you ever feel caught up? Is the notion of “caught up” a thing of the past? Do you feel overwhelmed by the load of theoretical “essentials” that have become an integral part of daily life?
Although I felt some satisfaction in what I accomplished, part of my inability to hold onto that positive feeling was the long list of (perpetually renewing) “things to resolve” that had expanded as the result of my night’s efforts, rather than contracted. I already had a to-do list that included disputed bills, follow-ups on disputed bills, mistakes on various accounts to chase down, outstanding responses to people who would expect them (via email), upcoming dentist appointment reminders, odds and ends of routine follow-up medical appointments (all of which require a significant highway drive, because facilities in the doctors’ buildings won’t accept my insurance), and a bit of social media politeness that normally I would enjoy, but lately has dropped down on the priority list.
That is, by no means, a complete to-do list.
Can anyone spell a-n-x-i-e-t-y?
Just after sunrise, is it any surprise that I was searching for more 18th-century candlelight therapy among my free cable viewing options?
Now, I’ve made attempts before at what I think of as radical simplicity. I generally benefit from these attempts — for a while — and then life has a way of swooping in again and filling my (21st century) dance card with more ridiculous but necessary-to-navigate details and detours. And yes, 15 years ago I had an email account, and I used it with a handful of people, primarily in conjunction with a writer’s group. 15 years ago, I left the house without a phone. Remember that? People taking messages? A little “private” time?
And five years before that, the only time I ever used an email, rare in those days, was while at work. Remember that? “At” work? As opposed to at home, with family?
Contrast that to today, and if you are anything like me, you have multiple emails for various purposes, each of them filling up all too quickly with assorted subscriptions and feeds and promotions and ads, and you slog through every week or every day or every hour trying to see what is truly important and ultimately giving up. (And every quarter, trying to make that “noticeable dent.”)
Then there are all of the other online activities that require passwords. There are our social media accounts, our apps, our passwords for online shopping at each retail store and online banking anywhere we may have any kind of account, credit or debit. Let’s not forget the assortment of home associations or renter associations or alumni groups or meetup groups or service providers like utilities who require us to transact our business online. By the time you’re done, you may have 30 or 40 or 140 passwords… and you can’t recall what each one is for, much less what it is, where you wrote it down, and which email it is associated with.
Caught up? Is it possible? Should I just give up?
Funny. 15 years ago I thought life was far too complex. I imagine I will look back five or 10 years from now and think the same of this period.
Again… SIGH. Now please pass the Jane Austen.
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